Languages and classics disband and reorganize

Posted on December 01, 2013 in News
By Sidney Dritz

All of the classes and the three majors associated with the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures are still running after the department was effectively dissolved in late October. While ‘dissolving a department’ may sound like another cut, the move was largely organizational, and left the majors intact.

No courses and none of the three majors have been cut, nor, said Dean Lynn Kuzma of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, are there any plans in place to do so. However, Spanish Professor Charlene Suscavage argues that the loss of the departmental structure places her program, Hispanic studies, in a precarious position.

“We have no visibility,” Suscavage said. Visibility is important for Hispanic studies, Suscavage explained, because it is listed as a contract major, which falls under the umbrella of the “self designed” major, though there is an established curriculum required for Hispanic Studies students. “One of the reasons we’re a small major is that no one knows that we’re there,” Suscavage said.

Suscavage said she has tried to make Hispanic Studies a traditional major and that it has been voted in as one by the Faculty Senate three times, but it has never gone further than that. “Our provost would have to send it to the Board of Trustees, and he doesn’t want to,” Suscavage said.

When asked in an email why he has not explored this option, the Provost told the Free Press, “I am hopeful that the University of Maine System will find a way, much like Dr. Erickson is doing with French, to marshal resources from across the system to support a Spanish major.” He noted that since USM’s Hispanic Studies major is not listed as a system-approved major, the University of Maine at Orono is the only campus in the system that officially offers a Spanish major.

French Professor Nancy Erickson described the work Provost Stevenson mentioned. “I have been working with all the UMaine System campuses on a proposal to deliver the French major to campuses which do not have one and to share resources among the campuses that do but are strapped for resources. I met with the Provost and the Dean in mid-December to give my report and discuss this. My report is ready.”

When discussing this move toward inter-campus language programs across the UMS, Suscavage described the situation as “very dicey,” stressing the importance of in-person instruction for the first three semesters of a language class and the extremely small numbers of students who have opted to take the online version of her own blended class so far.

The three majors, French, Hispanic studies and classical languages and literatures, will each be taught by one full-time faculty member once Peter Aicher, the second remaining full-time classics professor at USM, reaches the end of a phased retirement next year. Each major is looking into different ways forward, following the decision that a department of three faculty members, all of whom teach different subjects, is not sustainable. “Essentially, we lost two-thirds of our faculty over the last 11 years,” said Associate Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures Jeannine Uzzi. “When people retire and aren’t replaced, you essentially kill the program.”

Uzzi added that classics, her own department, in some ways has more in common in terms of curriculum with history, philosophy and other liberal arts fields than with French or Spanish language classes. “There is no curricular reason why we should be together as one unit,” Uzzi said.

Administration for the three majors is currently going through Dean Kuzma’s office. “The Dean and the faculty are now working together to determine next steps in finding appropriate academic homes for the relevant programs,” said Stevenson.

However, what those departmental homes might be is far from being decided. “Everything is speculative,” said Erickson, who was adamant that, despite the administrative changes the three programs have undergone since Oct. 23, the dissolution of the department is not certain.

“You can’t just dissolve a department, that’s not how things are done,” Erickson said. She went on to say that no further meetings had been scheduled to determine the future of the department, a fact that she confirmed again two weeks later. She said that that the department’s status would remain undefined until further steps were taken. “I don’t know what is likely to happen,” Erickson said.

Suscavage is similarly uncertain. “We’re all in limbo,” she said. “The next step is reorganization.”

One thing that is certain is that, as an administrative unit, the MCLL department is no longer functioning. Kuzma confirmed that administrative work for the three majors is being done through the dean’s office while further arrangements are explored. “The changes in MCLL are purely administrative.  I cannot emphasize that enough,” said Kuzma in an email to the Free Press in November.